Nowadays, it seems that many chefs are full-fledged brands first, cooks second. Money-printing machines armed with theme restaurants, much hyped cookbooks and TV shows. IMHO, many of these “rock star chefs” are undeserving of the spotlight and often tarnished by too much celebrity, too many product endorsements and simply too much hype. The focus on cooking appears to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.
I wish I had the superpower to bestow some of the chefs in my own life with fame, fortune and a cookware line. Case in point, my buddy’s mom. Recently, my taste buds were taken to heaven by her deconstructed lasagna. The dish was pure, authentic and skillfully presented. A true culinary experience, yet one that goes unrecognized but for the acclaim from the lucky few in her entourage (count me in as one of her fans).
But not all celebrity chefs are publicity-seeking and image obsessed. I’ve always had much reverence for Chef David Chang and his ability to maintain a strong sense of self and emphasize food over fame. He grew up working in his father’s bistros in D.C. He trained at the French Culinary Institute before taking jobs at various prestigious establishments. Working at local ramen shops in Japan led to him eventually starting his own restaurant, Momofuku. He now presides over a culinary empire that has been the recipient of two Michelin stars and numerous James Beard awards. For months, I talked everyone’s ear off about my upcoming trip to Momofuku TO, his newest venture. And now, here I was. About to feast on the cuisine of an artist.
The restaurant is fascinating. An odd tree-like sculpture hovers near its street-level entrance. Once inside, the split-level space is extremely unpretentious and dominated by minimalist design in muted tones. Tables with backless stools, towering ceilings, stone and glass complete the look. It’s clear from the outset that this design was deliberate. The focus is on the food.
Ah, the food. We dined on heavenly pork buns. Juicy and tender meat wrapped in soft, pillowy dough garnished with a dollop of hoisin and topped with cucumbers and scallions. Next up, my friend had ginger scallion noodles with shiitake, cucumber and cabbage and I tried the dan dan mein, spicy pork, dry scallops, and peanuts over noodles. I was fascinated by the well-thought-out combinations of flavours and textures. I simply admire the way he creates dishes, building from tradition and adding a simple spin to create blissful works of food art. It’s hardly an overstatement to say that a meal at Momofuku was one of a higher order than any I’d ever had before and one the best I’ve had in my life.
Chef Chang and my buddy’s mom have much in common. They both have a passion and commitment to bring joy and comfort to their people through food. They both inadvertently inspire. And they both do it without a cookware line. That’s admirable.